“All Men [sic] Created Equal”:
Participating in American Civic Discourse
“It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.”
This course is designed to introduce students to the early American political writings that lay the foundational reference points for debates concerning varying conceptions of what the United States is, has been, and ought to be. In addition to a close reading of the U.S. Constitution and a few significant instances of its interpretation (think Supreme Court decisions and documents on public discourse), authors will include Franklin, Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Jay, Paine, and others. We will consider what we know (or believe) about American history with particular attention to how arguments concerning freedom, civil rights, personal liberty (and other core “American values” as they are raised in the course of class discussion) have played out in the centuries since these debates first occurred, as well as how they might be constructively framed in the 21st Century.
Structure of the Class
English 200 is a VLPA course designed primarily for non-English majors. This typically means that each section will focus on a particular genre according to instructor expertise and listed in the course catalog. Generally speaking, English 200 is intended to 1) introduce students to materials and skills necessary to engage in critical inquiry, 2) to incorporate active learning strategies on a regular basis, 3) to use writing as an opportunity to think through a problem rather than to perform mastery or demonstrate knowledge.
This course emphasizes civic discourse as a distinct genre within American culture, media, literature, etc. In this course, we will approach the problems presented in the course description by means of this civic discourse, in which the members of a federal republic openly discuss their concerns and work out potential solutions. As a result, this course is very participatory, and your willingness to engage in group discussion will be critical. It is unique among English classes in that it will emphasize conversation in addition to writing.
By the end of the first week of the course, we will have separated ourselves into eight groups of five, which will be determined by a large conversation in which we explore the variety of interests that your all bring to the class. In week two, your groups will begin a sustained research project (about which you will receive detailed instruction later this week) that you will prepare over the quarter. This class includes a final group presentation (more on this later as well) instead of a final paper.
Learning Outcomes for Course
- Students are able to contextualize and analyze the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally. (Analytical; Writing; Disciplinary)
- Students understand the investments, contexts, and effects of the kind of close/critical reading skills or approaches under study/use. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing)
- Students develop more sophisticated discussion and presentation skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend their own arguments or interpretations. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing)
The views expounded upon within the context of an academically free environment (such as this one) do not represent, nor do they constitute, in any way shape or form, the views, positions, or opinions of the University of Washington, the Expository Writing Program, or anybody else in the world. Anything associated with the context of this classroom is to be considered confidential academic record, and thereby strictly exempt from FOIA requests of any kind.
Plagiarism, or academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else's ideas or writing as your own. In your writing for this class, you are encouraged to refer to other people's thoughts and writing—as long as you cite them. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.
UW English Department Value Statement
The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”
As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities. Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class. These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue. We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.
Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; nontheists; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.